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Call to repeal strict Pak laws

Islamabad, Sept. 2 (Reuters): A government-appointed commission in Pakistan called today for the abolition of strict Islamic laws, which rights activists say discriminate against women.

The Islamic Hudood Ordinances were passed in 1979 under the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq and cover a range of crimes.

One of the most controversial provisions states that a woman must have four male witnesses to prove rape, or face a charge of adultery herself. Men and women found guilty of adultery face stoning to death or 100 lashes. “We have come to the conclusion that these laws should be repealed altogether,” Majida Razvi, chairwoman of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) said from the southern city of Karachi.

Razvi, a former judge, said the commission was preparing a report based on its recommendations, which would urge the government to conduct a public and parliamentary debate before passing new laws.

The Hudood laws have long been opposed by secular political parties, civil rights and women’s groups, who argue that rape and violence against women have soared since they were passed.

But successive governments have failed to change the controversial laws because of stiff opposition from powerful Islamist groups, who have traditionally been close allies of the military in Pakistan.

Nilofar Bakhtiar, adviser to the Prime Minister on women’s development, said the government would take action after receiving the report. “We have asked them to expedite it because we also want to do something about it,” she said, without elaborating.

According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there were 2,200 women in prison in the country in 2001-2002, most of whom were either awaiting trial or had been convicted under the Hudood laws. Women’s groups say many rape cases go unreported partly because of the impossibility of proving the crime under the Hudood laws.

In its 2002 report, the human rights commission says one woman was raped every two hours and one subjected to gang-rape every eight hours in Pakistan. Women’s groups welcomed the commission’s findings.

MQM leaders killed

Gunmen in Karachi shot and killed two senior members of a pro-government political party today and later five people were killed in a second attack after their funeral, police said.

Two members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition partner in Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s government, were killed in a a hit-and-run attack early in the morning, police said.

The victims were returning home after a marriage when their car was ambushed by assailants who opened fire with automatic weapons.

Both died on the spot, police said.

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